Colonel Elsworth Takes Down the Confederate Flag in Alexandria for Lincoln

Colonel Elsworth Takes Down the Confederate Flag in Alexandria for Lincoln

Zouaves dress consisted of a loose jacket and waistcoat of dark blue cloth, red Turkish trousers, red fez with yellow tassel, sky-blue sash, yellow leather leggings, and white gaiters.  This costume, which made a conspicuous mark for bullets, was soon exchanged for the more sober blue and gray. The first regiment of Zouaves was that of Colonel Ellsworth - "New York Fire Zouaves."

Elmer Elsworth was a friend of Abraham Lincoln who worked in his law office in Springfield and later on his presidential campaign.  In 1861 after the Battle of Fort Sumter he organized and led the 11th New York Zouaves into Alexandria, Virginia as part of the Union forces occupation of the city. Elsworth knew that in Washington Lincoln could see the Confederate flag flying on top of the Marshall House on King Street and took  action to take it down from the roof of the hotel.  Col. Elsworth  entered the house, removed the flag from the roof but was shot dead by the proprietor James Jackson descending the stairs.  Lincoln wept at the news and ordered Elsworth be laid out in honor in the White House. This story also shows the passion of  the conflict  between North and South in  a town occupied by the Union troops still flying Confederate colors. An interesting series on PBS Mercy Street is about the conflicts in a Union hospital in Alexandria converted from a luxury hotel serving injured soldiers from both sides by a staff of Northern, Southern and free Black aides, nurses and doctors.

In The American Conflict, published in 1864, Horace Greeley, the editor of The New York Tribune, wrote of Ellsworth's death, "Jackson's deed, which, at the North, was shudderingly regarded as assassination, at the South, was exulted over as an exhibition of patriotic heroism."